Truman Head: California Joe

In the spring of 1861 a wave of patriotism was sweeping the north in response to President Lincoln's call for volunteers to fight for the Union. One person who felt the call was Hiram Berdan.

Berdan, an engineer, inventor and one of the best marksmen in the United States, believed that he could raise a contingent of the best rifle shots from each of the loyal northern states.

After receiving approval from General Winfield Scott, Berdan went about the task of recruitment. So many volunteers came forward that the First Regiment was soon filled. The regiment was divided into 10 companies. One of the companies, Company C, was organized in the state of Michigan on August 21, 1861. The company was mustered into Federal service in late September, at the Sharpshooters' Camp at Weehawken, New Jersey. From there the company went to the Camp of Instruction, located north of Washington, D.C. It was there that the Sharpshooters were to receive the uniforms that would earn them the nickname "Green Coats".

California Joe.

Truman Head of Company C of the First Regiment was unquestionably the most famous among Berdan's Sharpshooters.

Nicknamed "California JoeCalifornia Joe.", "Old Californy", and "Old California," Joe came west from New York to seek his fortune after a failed romance. Joe was 52 years old at the time he enlisted, but stated his age as 42, otherwise he would have been rejected. Joe brought to the sharpshooters a background of a hunter and gold miner which could have made enough fodder for interesting news stories but Joe was found to have a keen eye and a great marksman without any embellishments by the press. Joe's image and his exploits made for good reading in a time where the Union was sorely lacking heroes and good news from the war.

One of the greatet impacts Joe had on the Sharpshooters themselves was his private purchase of a Sharps rifle. It may have been Joes experience that made them want their own Sharps' as well. Sadly, Joes time in the sharpshooters was quite limited. His age caught up with him and his sight was starting to fail him. Joe was discharged November 4,1862 for "senility and impaired vision."

Joe returned to California and became a customs inspector in San Francisco. He died November 24,1874.

While Truman Head is well known for his exploits, he is not alone in heading East and being a member of Berdan's Sharpshooters.

Two men, Pvt. Sexton Williams and Pvt. Daniel Buckingham, left California and became members of Company F of the Second Regiment, but for different reasons than those of Old California. Both men deserted from the Second Regt. California Infantry and went East and were sent to the Sharpshooters after surrendering themselves. Buckingham died shortly after going on leave following the Gettysburg campaign and Williams died during the siege of Petersburg.

The Mammoth Book of Life Before the Mast:
Sailors' Eyewitness Stories from the Age of Fighting Ships

Jon E. Lewis, Editor
Firsthand accounts of the real-life naval adventures behind the popular historical sagas of Patrick O'Brian and C. F. Forester. Twenty true-life adventures capture the glory and gore of the great age of naval warfare from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century -- the age of the French Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812 -- when combat at sea was won by sheer human wit, courage, and endurance. Culled from memoirs, diaries, and letters of celebrated officers as well as sailors, the collection includes accounts of such decisive naval engagements as Admiral Horatio Nelson's on the Battle of the Nile in 1798 or Midshipman Roberts' on the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and also offers glimpses into daily hardships aboard a man-of-war: scurvy, whippings, storms, piracy, press gangs, drudgery, boredom, and cannibalism.

Life of a Sailor (Seafarers' Voices) Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.Life At Sea.Life Before the Mast.
Frederick Chamier
Chamier went to sea in 1809 as an officer in the Royal Navy. Like his contemporary, Captain Frederick Marryat, he enjoyed a successful literary career and is remembered for his naval novels. This book, his first, is usually catalogued as fiction, although it is an exact account of his naval experiences, with every individual, ship, and event he described corroborated by his service records. Told with humor and insight, it is considered an authentic account of a young officer's service. From anti-slavery patrols off Africa to punitive raids on the American coast during the War of 1812, Chamier provides details of many lesser-known campaigns. His descriptions of British naval operations in America, which reflected his objection to bringing the war to the civilian population, were highly criticized by his seniors.

The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor..
John C. Dann

Great Stories of the Sea & Ships Sea Stories and the history of America.
N. C. Wyeth
Sea Stories and the history of America.More than 50,000 copies of this collection of high-seas adventures are in print. It showcases the fiction of such classic writers as Daniel Defoe, Jules Verne, and Jack London, and the entries also feature historic first-person narratives including Christopher Columbus’s own account of his voyage in 1492. Vivid tales of heroic naval battles and dangerous journeys of exploration to the stories of castaways and smugglers. The variety of works includes “The Raft of Odysseus,” by Homer; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Mermaid”; “The Specksioneer,” by Elizabeth Gaskell; Washington Irving’s “The Phantom Island”; and “Rounding Cape Horn,” by Herman Melville. Eighteen extraordinary black and white illustrations by Peter Hurd add to the volume's beauty.

The Rebel Raiders
The Astonishing History of the Confederacy's Secret NavyRebel Raiders. James T. deKay.

James T. deKay
During its construction in Liverpool, the ship was known as “Number 290.” It was unleashed as the CSS Alabama, the Confederate gunship that triggered the last great military campaign of the Civil War; yet another infamous example of British political treachery, and the largest retribution settlement ever negotiated by an international tribunal: $15,500,000 in gold paid by Britain to the United States.

This true story of the Anglo-Confederate alliance that led to the creation of a Southern navy illuminates the dramatic and crucial global impact of the American Civil War. Like most things in the War between the States, it started over cotton: Lincoln’s naval blockade prevented the South from exporting their prize commodity to England. In response, the Confederacy came up with a plan to divert the North’s vessels and open the waterways–a plan that would mean covertly building a navy in Britain, a strategy that involved a cast of clandestine characters.


The Project

Ship Passengers, Sea Captains, Maritime Nations, Merchants, Merchandise into San Francisco during the 1800s.



America and the Sea. A Maritime History.
America and the Sea
A Maritime History

Benjamin W. Labaree, William M. Fowler, Jr., Edward W. Sloan, John B. Hattendord, Jeffrey J. Safford, Andrew W. German.

Kindly Kindly support our work.


DALevy @
77 Solano Square
Suite 337
Benicia, California
94510 U.S.A.

Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.